Pac-12 Media Day: Rodriguez Sees Stars Beyond the Limelight

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 19: Runningback Taimi Tutogi #31 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates with a flag after defeating the Arizona State Sun Devils in the college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 19, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 31-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES - The throng of reporters huddled around USC head coach Lane Kiffin is a scene fitting the Pacific 12 Conference Media Day's Hollywood setting, Kiffin and quarterback Matt Barkley the red carpet walkers of this paparazzi atmosphere.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez sits feet away from the mob, yet worlds apart. Five others share a table with Rodriguez; one is his son, Rhett.

Like many conversations in this part of California, the topic turns to stars -- specifically, TV stars.

"Kids recognize guys they have seen on TV. No one knew about Denard until he became 'Shoelace,' and he was on TV" Rodriguez said, referring to Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson's meteoric rise in the first month of the 2010 season. "No one knew about Steve Slaton until he did something on prime time TV."

Prime time. Every dreamer in this city waiting tables between casting calls aspires for the day his or her face can be seen on televisions nationwide at peak viewing hours.

Likewise, a college football player aspires to be the hero one Saturday when Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit are on the call, or for Gus Johnson to erupt with one of his infectious laughs when calling a game-changing play.

It's an invaluable recruiting tool, Rodriguez said.

"People identify themselves with that. I get quarterbacks now who say, 'I remember when Pat White did this, I remember when Pat White did that,' and that was seven, eight years ago," he said. "We still bring that up in recruiting."

Rodriguez has produced and directed his share of stars, and White is among the most notable surprise breakouts. He burst into the national consciousness with stellar performances in 2005 against Louisville in triple overtime, and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Such stars of the gridiron roam the lawn outside Universal City Walk's Gibson Amphitheater. Barkley is the shining example, making enough TV appearances on this day to earn some hefty residual checks -- though the USC compliance department might frown on that.

But the conference's stars are not resigned exclusively to L.A. Rodriguez sees star potential in Tucson.

"Matt Scott's the first one [to consider]," he said. UA's red shirt senior quarterback has been frequently discussed since Rodriguez's hire as a possible breakout performer in the zone-read offense.

Scott referred to playing in the system as, "a dream come true."

And surrounded by rushers, Scott said he feels confident that the new scheme will catch the eye of NFL talent scouts.

Those backs earned high praise from Rodriguez.

"Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins are two good backs that have some skills. I think Taimi Tutogi can be a star," he added. "He's a big guy and he may play an unselfish role, but he's got a great skill set. He can do a lot of different things."

Tutogi is an H-back, used last season in goal line, wishbone formations and occasionally as a receiver in the flat. His 260-pound frame may not be the prototype look for stardom in an option offense, but Rodriguez helped turn the similarly skilled Owen Schmitt from a walk-on to a pro.

Based on Rodriguez's comments, Tutogi might have a similar fate awaiting him.

"I can see Taimi making a name for himself," Rodriguez said.

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